Pitcher Rafael Montero made his major league debut for the New York Mets last week. He tossed six innings, allowing three runs (all earned) on five hits while walking two and fanning three. Not a bad start at all, especially since he was facing the New York Yankees and their $200 million payroll in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks on the planet. But after one pretty good start in the major leagues, the Mets decided to tinker with Montero.
Pitching coach Dan Warthen publicly stated that Montero may have been tipping his pitches. Montero had trouble putting away Yankees hitters, even when he was ahead in the count. Warthen and the Mets suspected it was because the Yankees knew what was coming. In Montero’s second outing, he gave up five runs in less than five innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Could it be that Montero became tentative on the mound in order to stop tipping pitches? Did Warthen’s public statements alert the Dodgers to a change of delivery by Montero on his secondary pitches? It’s possible that either one of those factors could have contributed to the young right-hander’s poor start on Tuesday.
It doesn’t make sense to change a pitcher’s delivery after just one fairly successful start in the major leagues. If something becomes a trend, then sure, get it fixed. But the Mets’ concerns about Montero’s pitch-tipping, along with the fact that the Dodgers surely heard about it, didn’t do him any favors.
If the Mets are going to change something with Montero, they should concentrate on developing his secondary stuff. His slider is not very sharp, and major league hitters have so far been able to read it. His change-up could be his best pitch, but it needs refinement as well.
Look at some successful change-up pitchers the Mets have had in recent years. Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana all maintained a 10-mph differential (give or take) between their fastball and change. Dillon Gee‘s differential is in the six-to-seven-mph range, but he also has superior command, and a slider that has turned into a serious weapon in his arsenal.
The latter pitcher is who Montero should emulate. Montero’s fastball-change-up differential is also about the same range. If Montero can master his command of each of those pitches, he can be a consistent, effective MLB starter. There’s no reason he can’t — up until he joined the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s, his command was impeccable in the minor leagues. In addition, if he can figure out how to sharpen the break on his slider, he’ll be a No. 2 or 3 starter.
The Mets really shouldn’t have tinkered with Montero so soon, anyway. But if they are going to do something with him, it makes the most sense to work on his secondary pitches.